099: Luciana Souza, ‘Baião à Tempo’ (“An Answer to Your Silence”)

Posted by jeff on Jan 11, 2018 in Brazilian, Jazz, Song Of the week, Vocalists


Here we are, SoTW 99, and we’ve avoided until now dedicating a post to our very favorite artist of recent years. So before we add a digit, let’s correct that historic injustice. Ms Luciana Souza, this one’s for you. I only hope that I manage to do credit to the most courageous and wondrous music I’ve heard in the past ten years.

In the mere 12 years she’s been recording – 8 CDs under her name released in North America since 1999, in addition to dozens of prestigious guest spots – she’s worked in four distinct idioms. Chronologically: two CDs of vocal jazz (“An Answer to Your Silence”, “The Poems of Elizabeth Bishop”); two of Brazilian songs accompanied by a single acoustic guitar (“Duos I & II”); one of musical poetry (“Neruda”); and three of more commercial ventures, American bossa nova (“North and South”, “The New Bossa Nova”, and “Tide”).

I have WAY too much respect for her to try to exhaust all I have to say about this prodigiously talented woman (b. 1966) in a single post. I was sorely tempted to start at the end and work backwards, because her three commercial CDs are so much more accessible. They include material you know, guests and collaborators of the first rank (she’s courted by luminaries such as Herbie Hancock, Sting, James Taylor and Paul Simon).

But I decided to confine myself today to her first two CDs – the most obscure ones, perhaps the most difficult, and in my not-so-humble opinion, the best ones. Two CDs of singular, outstanding, innovative, beautiful genius – groundbreaking, underappreciated, and regretfully unknown. I promise to treat the easier ones down the road.

Sorry folks, but as interested as I am in turning you on to great new music, you’re going to have to slog through with me what might appear somewhat rarefied and obscure here. You can either trust me or not – but I’m telling you that “An Answer to Your Silence” is the most interesting CD I’ve heard in the last decade. If you don’t have the energy, I’ll understand. Really, I will. No hard feelings! I get that not everyone has the needs that I do to go hacking through impregnable jazz jungles or crawling across atonal minimalist deserts or getting lost in endless Nordic a cappella virgin forests.

But I’m just a bit compulsive when it comes to my music, and Luciana Souza’s first two CDs are quintessentially my music.

Luciana Souza hails from São Paulo, daughter of bossa nova founders Walter Santos and Tereza Souza, god-child of living legend Hermeto Pascoal, SoTW 068,  (with whom she toured for years–oh, what I would have given to have witnessed that!) She began singing radio jingles at 3, by sixteen she was an in-demand studio singer. She moved to the US, where she has been based ever since, studying and teaching at Berklee, the New England Conservatory and the Manhattan School of Music.

Critics have been more appreciative of her than the public at large, although she’s making a living, as they say. But I’m of course going to drag us back to the time when she was hungry, and making music that arises from ambition, desire, hunger, those wonderful motivators.

I’ve never heard anything like Luciana Souza’s first two albums, “An Answer to Your Silence” and “The Poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Other Songs”. In my SoTW about Esperanza Spalding, that other incredibly talented and ground-breaking artist, I proposed this typology:

Singer: one who sings songs, where the song itself takes center stage, and the performer doesn’t stray from it significantly; Frank Sinatra

Jazz singer: like the above, but taking material primarily from The Great American Songbook and/or improvising on the basic format; Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald

Vocalist: using the above elements, but with a degree of mastery and control of the material that he/she transcends it to make a personal artistic statement; early Barbra Streisand (see SoTW 009), Billie Holiday.

Vocal artist: an artist who uses his/her voice as an instrument, free of the fetters of ‘songs’ or genre, or clearly using them as vehicles for a personal statement. Kurt EllingBobby McFerrin.

Jazz vocalist: one who works in a jazz context, often outside the framework of songs, relying heavily on improvisation in open, challenging structures beyond the standard 32-bar format; I can’t think of a single such artist from the 20th century, but it does two young ladies, Esperanza Spalding, and Luciana Souza.

My examples have changed a bit since I wrote that (Kurt Elling’s singularity has focused on the individuality of his repertoire choices and interpretations, but he seems to be confining himself more to ‘songs’.) But I think it’s still a valid set of categories, especially to show just how unique Luciana Souza is.

Elizabeth Bishop

The pieces comprising “An Answer to Your Silence” are almost all original compositions. They’re all completely personal interpretations. In “Elizabeth Bishop”, she takes a number of poems by the quirky and thorny lesbian Modernist American poetess (1911-1979), sets them to her own music, and juxtaposes them with her own compositions of the same ilk. In both CDs, she employs a very hot jazz quintet—a rhythm section of acoustic bass, drums, piano; and two lead voices, an alto sax and – whoops! – a human voice!! Wasn’t that supposed to be a trumpet? That’s our standard jazz combo, isn’t it? Well, yes it is. But here, Ms Souza is the composer and bandleader, and a member of the group. It’s not a quartet backing her, as has been the practice in every single vocal jazz album since the genre was invented in the 1930s. It’s not about embellishing standards (see ‘Jazz Singer’ and ‘Vocalist’ above). It’s about using the voice as an integral instrument in a jazz context.

The example we’re bringing you is “Baião à Tempo”, an original. The melody winds and loops and envelops you. First it’s her, then it’s her and the saxophone in unison, then in harmony, then it’s the piano. The tempo? For all I know, it’s 17/3.5. It’s Brazilian, it’s jazz, it shifts and smiles with inscrutable insouciance and subtlety and panache. But it sure is uplifting.

From her website: “Luciana Souza’s singing has been called ‘transcendental’, ‘perfect’, and of ‘unparalleled beauty’.” Yup. I buy that.

In the end, it’s all her music, but she spends less time singing than in directing a bossa nova baião jazz gestalt. It’s complex, it’s virtuosic, it’s a completely original conception. It’s wonderful, wonderful, wonderful music.

“Baião à Tempo” is quite typical of all the music on “An Answer to Your Silence” and “Elizabeth Bishop”. Strong but challenging melodic lines, all the instruments sharing the spotlight (lots of great bass solos, excellent drumming, fine, strong piano and sax). A never-ending wonderland of twists and turns, all genuine, nothing done for show, all integral, honest, each partcontributing to a musical whole.

I can’t recommend more strongly purchasing these two albums and immersing yourself in them as I’ve been doing for several years.

One more point I’d like to add here. I’d like to group with the “jazz vocal” style in these two CDs one of her many notable collaborations, as singer in the Maria Schneider Orchestra.

Maria Schneider, Luciana Souza

I’ve sung the praises of compositrice/bandleader Maria Schneider (SoTW 081). One crucial ingredient in some of her most beautiful music is the voice of Luciana Souza, who is featured on her albums “Concert in the Garden” and “Sky Blue”. Ms Schneider’s orchestra is composed almost solely of brass and woodwinds, with a lot of accordion and guitar. So in format, it’s almost a big band. But the sound palette, as we’ve discussed, is all Gil Evans – weightless, cerulean, as light as a perfect cloud in a perfect summer sky. Ms Schneider often employs Ms Souza’s vocals as a featured instrument in her aural pastiche. And what a choice of genius that is! Check out these live performances of pieces from the album “Concert in the Garden”:  Choro DancadoBoleria, Solea y Rumba; or Journey Home from “Allégresse”. Or my favorite, ‘The Pretty Road‘ from “Sky Blue”.

Divine music, created by a beautiful woman, her celestial symphony graced with “the only instrument made by God” – the human voice. Here, one of the most beautiful of human voices I’ve had the fortune to encounter, Luciana Souza.

If you enjoyed this posting, you may also enjoy:

081: Maria Schneider, ‘The Pretty Road’
068: Hermeto Pascoal, ‘Santa Catarina’
020: Esperanza Spalding, ‘I Know You Know’

SoTW is a non-commercial, non-profit venture, intended solely to promote the appreciation of good music. Readers are strongly encouraged to purchase the music discussed here at sites such as iTunes or Amazon. Likewise, the photographs used are intended for non-commercial purposes only.

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022: Roberta Sá and Chico Buarque, ‘Mambembe’

Posted by jeff on Oct 19, 2017 in Brazilian, Song Of the week, Vocalists

I’ve had a good life.

I’ve thought a lot about the facts that I was awarded life only because my grandparents had the prescience to leave Belarus; and that I was born into the wealthiest country in history at a time of freedom and therefore presented with unlimited possibilities of all sorts; and that I was born into a people with a very special history, with concomitant obligations and baggage; that I had the luxury of choosing the country I wanted to live in and the good fortune to live a life I chose, rather than following one I was born into; and that I was born at a time that my coming-of-age coincided with the bloom of the Beatles’ and Dylan’s recording careers. I may have missed the existence of the walkman during my formative years, but all in all I think I was well-born.

But if I were able to do it all over again, I think I might have chosen to be born in Brazil, sometime after the advent of bossa nova. Their music is so often so magical that it makes everything non-Latin sound plodding and pedestrian. My friend Miki did have that good fortune. He can do just a little clapping shuffle with his hands, and it sounds like dancing. He sent me an email this week with the subject “You will fall in love” and the link to our SoTW

He, of course, was right.

All too frequently I discover music through obsessive detective work — someone I respect makes a passing reference to an artist I’m not familiar with. I start following clue after clue, fall into a binge of three days or four weeks poring through the entire discography, acquiring a dozen CDs, ignoring work, family, and reality listening to them, reading interviews transcribed from Croatian radio, the whole shebang.

But in this case, I did it right, just like a normal human. Well, almost. Miki sent me the link, and I watched it. Then I watched it again. And again. And again. You can figure out the ellipsis. And I did indeed fall in love with the girl, the song, the clip, the event filmed there. As has every person I’ve shown it to in the last week, as will I hope you as well.

So it was only after watching it 30 or 40 times that I took a break to research, document, dissemble, dissect and analyze the poor thing.

The girl, Roberta Sá, was dropped out of the 2002 ‘Brazilian Idol’ competition after 4 weeks, but she’s had a pretty good run of it since. Many of the highly respected icons of Brazilian music have recorded with her, including Chico Buarque in the clip here. He’s 64, creator of an extensive and highly respected discography, a master of lyrics who managed to stay in trouble with the Brazilian authorities for many years.
The song itself was quite a surprise to me. It’s a homeless gent, maintaining that he shouldn’t be pitied, he has the freedom of a gypsy:

On stage in the square, the circus, a park bench
Running in the dark, graffiti on the wall
You will know me–Mambembe, Gypsy

Beggar, rogue, nigger,
Good or bad mulambo, singing.
Runaway slave, a lunatic.
I make my festival

Poet, clown, pirate, pirate, Wandering Jew
Sleeping on the road, nothing, nothing in
And this world is all mine


Under the bridge, singing
Beneath the earth, singing
In the mouths of the people, singing

But padding the clip with facts just distances us from it. I may just as well stick to my local Israeli associations—Uri Mamillian accompanying Meir Ariel and (oxymoron follows) a meltingly sweet and smiling Yonit Levi.

But of course none of that is the point. The point is the magic in the clip. The magic floating guitar. The charm, the sweetness, the utterly captivating power of the smile. And most of all, of course, the nascent, vibrant electricity between the two singers.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Esperanza  Spalding and sex appeal in female singers. Well, this clip is a lot more articulate than I am. Sometimes, that’s what it’s all about. And it can be great.

Just for an experiment, listen to the music without watching the clip. Nothing out of the ordinary, right? I’ve listened to quite a lot of Roberta Sá’s recordings, and they’re respectable, but really nothing special. I keep thinking of Ruhama Raz, for those of you who know her, sweet and innocent and girl-next-door harmless. And I’ve listened to some of Chico Buarque’s stuff, and it’s too lyric-based for me to overcome the Portuguese barrier (as I can do with many other more universally musical Brazilian artists).

But the clip, my gosh. It’s so disarming and charming and intoxicating. Like Miki said, I fell in love. And enough words, go enjoy the absolutely entrancing flirtation between these two singers.

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075: João Gilberto, ‘Chega De Saudade’ (Jobim)

Posted by jeff on Jun 15, 2016 in Brazilian, Song Of the week

I occasionally take advantage of this forum to wax rapturous about the lilting beauties of Brazil, Brazilians (both male and especially female), and Brazilian music, especially in SoTW 22, where I went completely overboard about Roberta Sá and Chico Buarke’s, ‘Mambembe’.

A friend recently stumbled over the Portuguese word ‘saudade’. So as we helped her up, we took a look at the word, which is a term, which is a concept, which is a whole emotional world. Wikipedia describes it thus:

…a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for something or someone that one was fond of and which is lost. It often carries a fatalist tone and a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might really never return. …a “vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist…a deep longing or yearning for something which does not exist or is unattainable. Saudade was once described as “the love that remains” or “the love that stays” after someone is gone. Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again. It can be described as an emptiness, like someone

(e.g., one’s children, parents, sibling, grandparents, friends) or something (e.g., places, pets, things one used to do in childhood, or other activities performed in the past) that should be there in a particular moment is missing, and the individual feels this absence. In Portuguese, ‘tenho saudades tuas’, translated as ‘I have saudades of you’ means ‘I miss you’, but carries a much stronger tone. In fact, you can have ‘saudades’ of someone you are with but have some feeling of loss towards the past or the future.
In Brazil, the day of saudade is officially celebrated on January 30.

A national holiday of heartache. Oh, how I want to be there for that celebration.

If ‘saudade’ has a whole world of associations for Brazilians, for this Levantine transplant it conjures the song ‘Chega De Saudade’, and for good reason – it was the first Bossa Nova song. Let me try to make some sense out of this, for both you and myself.

Samba is a Brazilian musical and dance genre originating in Africa, typically arising from rural areas and slums, and frequently associated with football and the Carnival. Not surprisingly, I guess, it also has a national day (December 2). It includes a whole wealth of dances and musical styles. During the 1950s, a new style of music evolved from it, Bossa Nova, influenced by jazz and performed by students and artistes, more sophisticated and lyric-oriented, more personal and idiosyncratic musically, less percussive. Music to be listened to quietly, rather than danced to raucously.

Stan Getz (left corner); João Gilberto (back); Antônio Carlos Jobim (standing, center)

‘Chega De Saudade’ is credited as being the first bossa nova song. It was written in 1958 by composer Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim and lyricist Vinicius de Moraes, and became a hit for singer/guitarist João Gilberto. We’ll return to the song in a moment, but let’s follow for a moment the bossa nova waves.

In 1959, French director Marcel Camus made a Brazilian film called “Black Orpheus” (“Orfeu Negro“), an allegorical treatment of the Orpheus myth set during Carnival in a shanty town. The film featured music that ranged from samba to bossa nova, written mostly by Moraes (who also wrote the screenplay) and Jobim, and included a couple of songs by Luiz Bonfá, including the famous ‘Manhã de Carnaval’.

The movie was a big hit in Brazil, and even made some impact in North America. I bought (and devoured) the soundtrack in about 1964, when I was a mere lad of 16. Sometimes I impress myself in retrospect.

But the big impact occurred with two bossa-inspired American jazz LPs. The first was “Jazz Samba” (1962) by saxophonist Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd. Its most famous tracks are ‘Desafinado’ (‘Slightly Out of Tune’) and ‘Samba de Uma Nota Só‘ (‘One Note Samba’). Then the LP that really took the world by storm, and still maintains a central role as progenitor of a legitimate, fruitful style half a century later, “Getz/Gilberto”. The music was Getz on sax, João Gilberto on guitar and vocals, and Tom Jobim (piano and composition of almost all the songs), helped out on vocals on a couple of songs (‘The Girl from Ipanema’, ‘Corcovado’) by Gilberto’s wife Astrud, who wasn’t really a singer but was the only one of the Brazilians present who knew enough English to get through the songs. Her recording sold several trillion records, and inspired her to divorce João and have an affair with Stan. Boy, what goes on behind that laid-back music!

Meanwhile, back at da fazenda. Success has many fathers, and we’ve tried to make some order in the beginnings of this very successful musical style. But it really has only one acknowledged father, Antonio Carlos Jobim. He is the one who is called the George Gershwin of Brazilian music. It is with him that singers such as Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald collaborated extensively. And it is after him that the Rio de Janeiro international airport is named. I’m sure we’ll pay him a dedicated visit in a future SoTW, so for right now we’ll just say ‘Muito obrigado, Tom’.

The song, ‘Chega De Saudade’ has had more treatments than a Beverly Hills facelift clinic. Here are a few native Brazilian versions worth getting to know better:

The Gilbertos, with Stan Getz in the middle

  • The legendary Caetano Velaso, including a peek at the song’s origin

Jon Hendricks wrote the well-known English lyrics for it, ‘No More Blues’. But they can’t hold a vela to the original. Trust me for two minutes—read the speak lyrics while you listen to the song. I speak no Portuguese, but the beauty of the lyrics speaks gently and clearly, right to my heart. It gives me great saudade for the Brazil that I hold in my imagination and in my heart. Apertado assim. Colado assim. Calado assim.

Chega De Saudade

Vai minha tristeza e diz a ela que sem ela não pode ser
(Go, my sadness, and tell her that without her it can’t be)
Diz-lhe numa prece
(Tell her in a prayer)
Que ela regresse, porque eu não posso mais sofrer
(To come back, because I can’t suffer anymore)
Chega de saudade
(Enough missing her)

João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim

A realidade é que sem ela não há paz, não há beleza
(The reality is that without her there’s no peace, there’s no beauty)
É só tristeza e a melancolia
(It’s only sadness and melancholy)
Que não sai de mim, não sai de mim, não sai…
(That won’t leave me, won’t leave me, won’t leave…)
Mas se ela voltar, se ela voltar,
(But if she comes back, if she comes back)
Que coisa linda, que coisa louca
(What a beautiful thing, what a crazy thing)
Pois há menos peixinhos a nadar no mar
(For there are fewer fish swimming in the sea)
Do que os beijinhos que eu darei na sua boca
(Than the kisses I’ll give you in your mouth)
Dentro dos meus braços os abraços hão de ser milhões de abraços
(Inside my arms, the hugs shall be millions of hugs)
Apertado assim, colado assim, calado assim
(Tight like this, united like this, silent like this)
Abraços e beijinhos e carinhos sem ter fim
(Infinite hugs and kisses and caressess)
Que é pra acabar com este negócio de você viver sem mim
(To end this “living-without-me” business)
Não quero mais esse negócio de você tão longe assim.
(Don’t want this “far-away” business)
Vamos deixar esse negócio de viver londe de mim.
(Let’s end this “living-away-from-me” business.)

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225: Brad Mehldau, ‘The Falcon Will Fly Again’/Luis Bonfa, ‘Manha de Carnaval’

Posted by jeff on Oct 9, 2015 in Brazilian, Jazz, Song Of the week

Brad Mehldau – ‘The Falcon Will Fly Again’ (2nd part)
Luis Bonfa – ‘Manha de Carnaval’ (2nd part)

Brad Mehldau – ‘The Falcon Will Fly Again’ 
Luis Bonfa – ‘Manha de Carnaval’ 

I’ve long intended to write about ‘The Falcon Will Fly Again’, a favorite track from a favorite album, “Highway Rider” by Brad Mehldau (2009). But I’ve been stumped, as a while back I wrote pretty much all I have to say about Brad in SoTW 094 about his ‘Martha, My Dear’ from “Live in Marciac”. But then I tripped over something very old, which became a very new and fresh and pleasing surprise.

Mehldau plays in numerous settings, and plays markedly differently in each. In the past decade he’s recorded four trio outings; one trio + guitarist Pat Metheney; one as pianist in a quartet with three jazz monoliths (he was 41, the average age of Konitz/Haden/Motian was 80); a duo with a saxophonist; two accompanying a classical soprano in ‘modern art songs’; one solo; one prog-rock piano/drums duo; and one ‘combo’ effort, “Highway Rider”.

Jobim, Bonfa

Jobim, Bonfa

The latter employs a full orchestra and features Joshua Redman on soprano and tenor sax. Mehldau composed, arranged and orchestrated the double CD. Most of the music is in a floating variety of combo settings. Mehldau is constantly probing, reaching out into new sound realms, but never seeking to impress or straining to create new sounds. It’s always about the music itself.

What does he do in ‘The Falcon Will Fly Again’? In both sections the instrumental setting is rhythm piano playing a clear, repetitive riff in some extraterrestrial time signature; soprano playing the wiry, conceptual lead, music for geeks; a supportive bass; and an intriguing rat-a-tat drum, a vaguely Brazilian stream of rim shots—one single tone, lifting the entire ensemble forward effortlessly, gracefully. Brazilian.

61+9wVjRg5L._SX425_But then at 5:42 the piece switches into a different section–again the rhythmic pattern is in π/4. But the melody is the sweetest thing north of Roraima. The same sweet soprano, the same superhumanly complex, lilting drum. Joining in to sing the lead line is a man (Mehldau?) and a charming, grainy children’s chorus.

Why am I struggling so to describe this? Because there’s nothing else like it (I thought). It’s just sweet and captivating in and of itself. It’s ‘just’ beautiful.

And then yesterday I was wandering through my library and took off the shelf “Orfeu Negro”, blew off the dust and put it on the figurative turntable.


Redman, Mehldau

In 1959, French director Marcel Camus filmed “Orfeu Negro” in a Rio de Janeiro slum during Carnival, a reworking of the Orpheus myth (the archetypical inspired singer who charmed his wife Eurydice out of the clutches of the netherworld) as based on a play by Vinícius de Moraes, who was also a musician in the then-emerging bossa nova scene in Brazil. The film opens with ‘A Felicidade’, a song by a young Brazilian musican (Antonio Carlos Jobim) in a new style, ‘bossa nova’ – a synthesis of ‘samba’, the traditional dance music of the Rio slums, and ‘jazz’. ‘Bossa’ was popular among students and quickly ignited a stylistic fire that is still burning brightly today.

“Orfeu Negru” also includes two iconic bossa nova songs written by Luis Bonfa, ‘Manha de Carnaval’ and ‘Samba de Orfeu’. Both, as well as Jobim’s ‘A Felicidade’, have been recorded thousands of times each.

1268757484_brad-mehldau-highway-rider-2010I walked through my understanding of this period, and the origins of this captivating style, in SoTW 075: João Gilberto, ‘Chega De Saudade’. As I said there, I knew the soundtrack and film of “Orfeu Negro” back in middle school in middle America. How? I guess I had restless tastes even as a kid.

The soundtrack is hardwired in my soul and brain and ears, so much so that it’s not an album I rehear often. But yesterday I did. And listen to this, the latter section of Bonfa’s ‘Manha de Carnaval.

Now listen to this, the latter section of Mehldau’s ‘The Falcon Will Fly Again’.

What to make of this? Damned if I know. Brad listened to Luis, apparently was paying homage to the soundtrack. No one would ever accuse Brad Mehldau of being derivative. He’s so damn original that you want to kiss him when he actually offers you a point of reference.

So, yeah, I’ll give him a sloppy, juicy kiss for all the musical pleasure he’s given me, in heart and in mind, body and soul. And for Mssrs Bonfa, Jobim, Moraes, Gilberto et al – a big obrigado. And may that bossa continue to be nova for another half century and more.


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